The common sunshine conebush, or geelbos as it is known in afrikaans, is the most wide-spread member of the Protea family in the fynbos. It is a very common species growing in a wide range of soil types from the Bokkeveld Escarpment to the Cape Peninsula and through to the Eastern Cape. It occurs from sea level to an altitude of 2000 m and is quite variable in leaf size as well as leaf- and bract colour.It is a multi-stemmed shrub with a persistent rootstock enabling it to resprout after fires. Individual plants although not very tall can often be very old. It is usually seen as a sprawling shrub less than 1m tall, but can grow taller. The leaves are hairless and the involucral leaves (leaves around the flowers) are ivory to yellow coloured. It is these bright ivory to yellow flowering leaves that turn many hills in the fynbos yellow at this time of the year.
The male and females are separate plants with the female cones around 20 mm wide and being retained on the plants for several years. This process of storing seeds on the plant is called serotiny. It provides a way of protecting the seeds from potential seed eaters until after fire when most rodents have been killed and conditions for germination are ideal. The photo on the right shows a female plant with cones protecting her seeds until the next fire.
The male flowerhead is 10–16 mm long and 9–12 mm across, eggshaped and has a sweet, yeasty smell.
Due to its variability in leaf and bract colour, Leucadendron salignum has played an important role for cultivar breeding in the wild flower industry. Many well known cultivars such as Leucadendron Safari Sunset have this iconic species as one of their ‘parents’.